The Swift Injustice of Human Memory

plasticity

So I have debated this for many months. Memory has always fascinated me. It’s so fallible and yet so crucial to our everyday lives. So crucial that we take it for granted and assume it to be correct.
This has been a theme to a lot of my understanding of how flawed science and our general logic capabilities, but it wasn’t until my grandfather’s second wife developed a dementia that I realized just how tragic this entire scenario is.
In this I have realized four “truths.”

When I went to New York this summer I took well over 1500 photos. I am pretty sure my mom was contemplating murder by the end of it, but I had to capture every moment in bytes. When I got home and realized how many photos I had taken I was shocked, it’s a lot to go through an pare down for sure. What surprised me was that I realized I had been taking the photos not as much so that I could post these photos online for all my friends to see what a fabulous time I had, but because I wanted to remember those moments. Like I was expecting in that moment to forget. Aware that one day I would be unable to recall everything we did and the colour of the sky as I ran in Central Park for the first time. The unfortunate part, I soon realized, is that the pictures, my memory, or both failed to do the moments justice. This is the first truth - we live expecting to forget, and thus we live constantly trying to grasp the past. And then the second truth hits – we lost the moment the instant we begin to reflect on its existence. Never again will you be able to perfectly recapture in any form that moment.

Photo number #1137

Photo number #1137

I am a little young to be worried about lost memories, but our brain, as much as we are told is virtually limitless in capacity, is limited by our ability to retrieve what is stored. Like losing the key. And that is tragic. I have been very fortunate to have some amazing experiences in my life. I have traveled, I have met some amazing people, I have eaten some amazing things, but somewhere in the jumble of hectic mornings running out the door we lose a chunk of our lives – we only get to keep the very best and the very worst moments. But sometimes the small moments are the best moments, or at the very least, they are the moments that tell the world who we are, what we want, and what we fear.
What I want most to remember, is the taste of the first time I had penne alla vodka at a restaurant in Mont-Tremblant. I want to remember the feeling cuddling against my boyfriend watching TV – the way his arms curved around me, making me feel safe. I want to remember all the afternoons playing “Little Skunker” with my grandmother. Instead, I have the third truth – We only get a vague recollection of the small moments that add up to who we are. As time goes on the memories get thinner and thinner.

As mentioned, my grandfather’s wife (step-grandmother? Is that a thing?) has been diagnosed with a dementia. I have studied it in school many times, even considered dementias as a potential area I would like to do my graduate studies in, but it doesn’t feel the same when it’s no longer a dry passage in your textbook or 2 hours in a lecture and 3 questions on the final. And now we come to the final, and most painful truth in memory – our memories help us to define who we are. I am a runner, I am a psych major, I am a daughter, aunt, sister, and girlfriend, I have a best friend with amazing taste in wine, I have a friend with an infectious laugh and a love of Disney, and I have a friend I have known since birth. I have accomplished some pretty badass stuff in my life, if I may toot my own horn so to speak. To forget how amazing I have grown to be. To forget all the things in my life that make me happy, heck to forget how I like my coffee and have to suffer through the experimentation again – that makes me sad.

Dementias show you just how tragic memory is. How apparently flawed the evolutionary system is. We have this massively powerful machine capable of remembering almost anything – it’s a large part of what has enabled us to have complex social relationships. Yet, your brain can deteriorate. This is not a unique thing, all the other organs can break down, but, unlike any other organ that can break down, when your brain deteriorates, it takes pieces of you with it. I have never strongly cleaved to the idea that the brain is responsible for “me-ness” – I have struggled to accept this reductionist argument, but perhaps in dementia I can see things a bit more clearly. My grandfather will have to watch as the woman he loves slowly forgets their life together and who she even is. And that is the most painful moment I think – having someone right there, they are still alive and breathing but merely a shell of who they were – alive but dead in a sense.

While I do not have the training to even begin to identify where consciousness is in the brain, perhaps I don’t need it. I wrote several months back that consciousness might be where you-ness lies, where the seat of our being independent of the brain can be located. But I seem to have trapped myself in a corner again, because it seems that as the brain and its memory deteriorates, so too does the self. So perhaps consciousness is the seat of the self, but perhaps it is not alone. Perhaps mind-body dualism had a point – the two interact to create a self that cannot survive without the other.

Cupcakes, and other tips for Surviving your 20’s With Your Sanity Intact.

ricky gervais

Hey so remember that time I got so insanely busy that despite jotting down ideas and taking pictures of all my new recipes, I didn’t actually blog for 6 months? Me too. Cool times. Not. Anyways – with graduate applications completed and a new village to call home I am back! (This one is legit a village. I heard the cashier at the grocery store say she had to go to the city, and by city she did not mean Toronto. She meant Barrie. True story.)

This is the view from our new place!! It was worth moving in a snow storm.

This is the view from our new place!! It was worth moving in a snow storm.

Something that has been on my mind a lot for the last few months, has been this idea of “I’m doing it wrong.” I’ve written before about how “should” is a really annoying word to say to yourself, but what I have been noticing lately in myself and others is this tendency to look to other’s lives to see how we are doing or to tell ourselves where we should go next.

You ever have that moment of self-doubt when you’re thinking, my God! Look at these other people’s lives – they’re so freaking perfect! What the heck did I forget to do to get there at this age?!

Don’t lie, we all go through it. And it’s worse thanks to the internet and it’s boundless amount of information all waiting to gnaw away at your insecurities.

I moved back home this summer. And I was feeling okay with this decision. It’s not like any of my friends had really big kid jobs right? And then they started getting really real big kid jobs as I call them. And in a fit of desperation I bought Adulting: How to  Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps (By Kelly Williams Brown if you’re interested!), which helped, but didn’t settle the unease I felt when my cousin got a job as a Director of Physician recruitment. And my high school friends started their Master’s degrees and at least half now had corporate jobs. People were growing up and going out in the world and getting real jobs. Then at least once a month I started noticing all my high school friends/acquaintances getting married and some were pregnant (or had kids). I mean I don’t really know how I feel about the kids thing, but they clearly had their lives together! Right?!

But in all this self-doubt and Facebook dream crushing there are four very important truths to remember:

  1. You Can’t “Win” Looking at Your Neighbour’s Test. 
    No seriously. Just like that grade 10 math test – you could be sitting next to the smartest kid, but they may still make a mistake. Except in this case, you’re not even writing the same test. Life is different for everyone. I have a friend who is several years younger than me and in a mild panic about what she should do with her life. And because she wants success, she looks at what others call success and wants that. Even if it’s never been an area of interest for her. Even if she’s really good at something else.
    What makes sense for my best friend who just completed teacher’s college makes no sense for my friend who is halfway through his engineering degree. Just because a friend is married and working doesn’t mean that answer A was the only correct answer.
    B) Stay at home and save up/figure out where you want to be,
    C) Go to school some more,
    D) Have a job and be single and awesome,
    E) Eat cookie dough from the freezer because you don’t know what to cook for dinner, and
    F) All or none of the above
    Are all valid answers. Really they could all be summed up into – find what makes you happy and do that. That’s the right answer. As long as it doesn’t involve routinely consuming excessive amounts of alcohol, ever consuming illegal drugs, electing to never clean your home/self ever again, or something that would seriously harm someone else, then by all means – continue. You’re doing fine so far.

    You're probably gonna fail with this strategy, but at least the internet is entertained.

    You’re probably gonna fail with this strategy, but at least the internet is entertained.

  2. Don’t expect a road map. (but if you’ve got a tour guide, feel free to ask questions)
    If you are confused at this point see (1). When I started university, I was (and still am) the first and only member of my family to attend/complete university. I had no freaking clue was a DGD was (similar to tutorials I think, but everything at uOttawa is bilingual, so we end up with a lot of palindrome shorthands). I also did not know what shawarmas were and had never eaten poutine. There were a lot of things about surviving and doing well in university about which I was totally clueless. I was lucky and clearly figured most of it out on my own, but I still graduated kicking myself for missing out on  lots of opportunities and wishing I had known things sooner. That’s life. Sometimes you have to accept you have no clue where you are going, sometimes you’ll follow bad directions (like the time my cousin told us “turn left and go up!”… we’re not all great at map reading. I can barely even point north when asked.). But pick where you want to go, ask for help when you find it, and accept that odds are at least 22.8% of the time you’ll feel at least a little lost, but I promise you’ll get wherever you are supposed to be eventually.
    uphill
  3. Success generally takes longer than it takes to make cupcakes. 
    By all means try the cupcake trick. I mean you probably will be at the same life point afterwards, but you’ll at least have cupcakes. Which nudges you ahead just a bit. In reality, success is a slow and drawn out process that requires focus, drive, and general motivation (because not everything you need to do to become successful is fun to do but it has to be done). The only rule to this is that you have to keep going. At this point in my life I am at least 59.2% sure that the bulk of our problems with success and life in general are caused by impatience and unrealistic timelines. Chill. Plan ahead. But seriously – chill. And go buy a cupcake.
    kid president
  4. The Golden Rule Applies to you too. Talk to yourself like you talk to your best friend.
    (Really, just talk to everyone like that. But let’s go ahead and keep the inappropriate stuff to the actual best friends. The Starbucks lady needs you to be nice to her, but she doesn’t need to know about the epic sex you had last night.)
    When things go wrong or we screw up, a lot of us have a tendency to do one of two things: A) We get mad at the world, or B) We get mad at ourselves. Both are destructive, but at least the other guy can walk away when he’s had enough.
    I’ve talked about this in the past, but be nice to yourself. A trick I use is I ask myself – would I say this to my best friend if she came to me with this exact story. Odds are I wouldn’t tell anyone, let alone my best friend that he/she is a total failure at life because they didn’t [insert crushing disappointment/failure here]. I might give her some advice, reassure her that this was a mistake, but I’d tell her it’ll be fine and she’s still a cool person.  So be a little kinder to yourself. And as my mother says to me, “Stop making mountains out of molehills.”
    On the flip side. Imagine someone, say your ex or some human being who missed the manners memo, kept texting you or calling you or spamming your social media to mock or berate you. How many times would you listen before you blocked their number or reamed them out for their general lack of decency? Probably not long. So be nice to you…

    Rule #1

    Rule #1

And that’s all I got. I’m not perfect. My life is a hodge podge stuck in limbo still at this point. And at least 10% of my brain is consumed with thoughts along the lines of “oh-my-God-what-am-I-doing-with-my-life-I-am-going-to-live-with-my-parents-forever!!” and a further 12% is consumed keeping those thoughts in check. But I trust it’ll all work out eventually. Fifteen years from now, my life will most likely look nothing like what anyone else’s “perfect” looks like. It’s going to be chaotically perfect.
And overly caffeinated.
With at least 3 more throw pillows than Aaraf considers functional.

For now I’m going to dance around my kitchen to “Shake It Off”
T-Swift knows what’s up.

Throwing Love Away?

So I’ve been thinking a lot about love, the ridiculous paradox that is love (more on that later), the ridiculous complexity of romantic relationships.

Remember when we were in high school what we though was “love,” “relationships,” and “commitment” were? I laugh looking at the level of emotional investment and outrage I displayed at that time, some of those things still annoy me, but as ridiculous as my concept of affection may seem in retrospect, I owe a lot of my understanding to those early experiments in coupledom. At that time though you think you’re being an adult-ish, you sometimes think that this is forever and thus is serious.

pretty much high school love.

pretty much high school love.

Then you grew up. You left the land of combo locks and beautiful 8-2:30 days, and realized that maybe you didn’t have it right and there was a difference between love and LOVEandwanttospendmyentirelifewith.

 

But as you grow up you start to realize that other things might matter and maybe finding the love of your life is no longer your primary objective (though for some maybe it still is), or perhaps sex matters more than anything and all of these options are fine. We all live different lives and make different choices – we find what’s right for us and we do that. Sometimes we figure out we made the wrong choice and we make another one.

But what gets me is that a lot of middle aged and older adults – I’m talking REAL adults with jobs and kids and mortgage payments who may or may not have difficulties with certain modern technologies but are much more adept at rotary dial telephones than I will ever be – complain that my generation is too quick to throw love (among other things) away.
That we don’t know how to work at relationships.
The instant our ship springs a slight leak we jump out without trying to bail it out or patch the hole.
And it really annoys me. Because let’s not forget whose generation raised the divorce rate so high. My generation is still working on an excessive amount of overpriced education and facing slim job pickings. For me the idea of a house and a husband and all that adulty responsibility is daunting. I’m freaked out about the fact that I may need to get a new car in the next year. Committing to a house and hubby is scary. But we’re looking at marriage and kids and minivans and saying “Hey, maybe I should focus on me, maybe I should get a job first” or “Hey, I have no money, I need to secure a job to pay off the student debt I incurred getting an education I was told was necessary for the job I still cannot get.”
We’ve got other things on our minds than rushing to find a partner. Maybe it’s selfish and maybe it might seem like we’re throwing things away, but I think there’s nothing wrong with getting your life in order first and saying that you as an individual matter more than you as a partner and parent, at least for now. Before we’ve settled into these roles, and heck even after. There’s nothing selfish about saying that you matter.

When we do find love, I think a large number of us are aware of the divorce rate – we don’t want to end up a statistic, or at least we want to be the non-divorced side of the statistic. We’ve got time, so we figure why rush – I am going to get this right. Which isn’t always possible, but being aware of potential issues and how we will react long-term, is not throwing something away – it’s saying I want US to be happy and WE won’t be long term, so let’s save everyone some money and be honest now.

Some problems can be fixed. Some can’t really. Some are just too tough, some fights will just keep happening. And I think there’s nothing wrong with recognizing that. Especially since the relationships that most often get this are the ones that have lasted long enough to know.

Til Death Do Us PartTo be fair my grandparents have been married for close to 50 years, and I don’t believe divorce ever crossed their minds. Maybe it did. But to be fair until 1968 here in Canada it was pretty tricky to get a divorce (proven adultery was the only allowable reason, and before 1867 you had to also prove additional harm such as rape, incest, or abuse; but in some provinces before the national divorce laws took over you had to go to parliament, which you can imagine is an expensive endeavor). When divorce isn’t an option except when your partner cheats or physically abuses you, of course you’re going to stick it out. Might not be happy but you’ll stick it out. Probably where the expression “argues like an old married couple” came from.
And therein lies the issue. Sometimes there just isn’t a way to resolve conflicts.
And it’s easy to criticize the other options when you never really had them. But cultures are constantly evolving. The dating culture has changed hugely over the last 60 years. We didn’t even used to “date” 100 years ago – it was more of an arranged marriage type set up (not saying anything bad about the cultures that still use this paradigm – it is exactly that – a different culture than my own) where you hoped for the best because those who loved you made choices for you based on your best interests. And it sort of worked. Sometimes it REALLY worked, sometimes it REALLY DIDN’T work.
But everything changes. Technology, how we make money, how we spend money, what we spend it on. How we learn, how we love, how we deal with problems. And it is great. It can sometimes look ridiculous at the beginning, but in the end it becomes accepted practice.
While slightly hyperbolic, the argument that we give up too easily  is like arguing that by choosing to shop at grocery stores we gave up too easily on farming. No, we chose to make our lives easier.

Maybe giving up is giving up regardless of the reasons.
Maybe we quit jobs, love, goals, and broken things too easily.
But maybe there’s nothing wrong with recognizing something as broken.
Maybe there’s nothing wrong with choosing what will make you and everyone else happier.

Doesn’t mean we don’t believe in marriage and happily ever after. And maybe breaking up before the wedding, rather than a sign of giving up, is a sign of taking marriage seriously.